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Journal Article

The world’s growing municipal solid waste: Trends and impacts


Chen,  David Meng-Chuen
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;


Bodirsky,  Benjamin Leon
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;

Krueger,  Tobias
External Organizations;


Mishra,  Abhijeet
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;


Popp,  Alexander
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;

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Chen, D.-M.-C., Bodirsky, B. L., Krueger, T., Mishra, A., Popp, A. (2020): The world’s growing municipal solid waste: Trends and impacts. - Environmental Research Letters, 15, 7, 074021.

Cite as: https://publications.pik-potsdam.de/pubman/item/item_24047
Global municipal waste production causes multiple environmental impacts, including greenhouse gas emissions, ocean plastic accumulation, and nitrogen pollution. However, estimates of both past and future development of waste and pollution are scarce. We apply compositional Bayesian regression to produce the first estimates of past and future (1965–2100) waste generation disaggregated by composition and treatment, along with resultant environmental impacts, for every country. We find that total wastes grow at declining speed with economic development, and that global waste generation has increased from 635 Mt in 1965 to 1999 Mt in 2015 and reaches 3539 Mt by 2050 (median values, middle-of-the-road scenario). From 2015 to 2050, the global share of organic waste declines from 47% to 39%, while all other waste type shares increase, especially paper. The share of waste treated in dumps declines from 28% to 18%, and more sustainable recycling, composting, and energy recovery treatments increase. Despite these increases, we estimate environmental loads to continue increasing in the future, although yearly plastic waste input into the oceans has reached a peak. Waste production does not appear to follow the environmental Kuznets curve, and current projections do not meet UN SDGs for waste reduction. Our study shows that a continuation of current trends and improvements is insufficient to reduce pressures on natural systems and achieve a circular economy. Relative to 2015, the amount of recycled waste would need to increase from 363 Mt to 740 Mt by 2030 to begin reducing unsustainable waste generation, compared to 519 Mt currently projected.